'Attractive in theory, but undesirable in practice'. Discuss this view of direct democracy in the USA (30 marks)

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  • 'attractive in theory but undesirable in practice'
    • agree
      • highly democratic
        • voters are asked direct questions initiated in 'bottom-up' rather than 'top-down' procedures
      • encourage wider political participation and engagement
      • consult voters on single issues that affect their lives rather than blanket votes for elected representatives
      • allow for votes on minority or other controversial issues that may otherwise not be raised
        • e.g. abortion, gay marriage, affirmative action or bond issues
      • can act as a check on unpopular decisions made by state legislatures
      • can allow for the recall of politicians through successful petition and vote
      • voters are educated on issues as views for and against are debated in campaigns through the media
      • express the will of the people through 'popular sovereignty'
    • disagree
      • possibility of manipulation by special interest groups
        • signature collecting methods to get initiatives on the ballot
        • most initiatives not initated by ordinary citizens but by special interest groups wanting to influence decisions in their favour
      • dominance of money and media in campaigns
        • often highly unequal resources of the cometeing sides of the ballot
        • Mormon Church spent over $20 million supporting Prop 8
        • studies show highest spending side usually wins
        • prevents fair representation of competing opinions
      • slanted questions and low turnout
        • distort the result and reduces legitimacy of the result
      • advantages of decisions made by elected and accountable representatives after debate
        • have long term interests of ALL voters in mind
        • if you don't like their decisions you can vote them out in the next elections
      • often overturned by state Supreme Courts
        • Prop 8 in 2008 overturned by SC in Hollingsworth v Perry 2013
      • voters tend to vote for their own short-term interests
        • e.g. vote to reduce property taxes Prop 13 Cali 1978
      • discriminatory effect on minorities in some ballot measures
      • recall of recently democratically elected politicians by their oppoents
        • possible undermining opf elected and responsible representatives through frivolous recall petitions financed by partisan opponents who failed to defeat them in a fair and democratic election
        • discourage the taking of bold but unpopular decisions


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